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Internet-Created Free Audio Dramas? 215

Posted by Cliff
from the scratching-the-itch dept.
fraser_joat asks: "The other day I finally took the time to watch Starship Exeter, previously reported on Slashdot. Coincidentally, I also revisited the BBC's excellent radio adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings, following the hype caused by the recent movies. The two of these got me thinking: while _Exeter_ was clearly a huge effort, it looks like they had a lot of fun making it. In many ways they are scratching the same sort of itch that generates free software. So what about audio drama? The technology needed to produce it is freely available, things like Ardour and Csound. So is it possible to produce an audio drama based on free texts such as those from Project Gutenberg in a distributed fashion, with contributers from all across the Net, just like with software? Would they even be useful as an introduction to classic fiction or just as pure entertainment?"

"While the technology exists to cut a play together, I see several possible problems:

  • High-quality audio recording equipment is expensive, and homes are not ideal environments. Can source material of sufficiently good quality be generated without professional facilities?
  • Since the actors could be widely separated, can they act in isolation in a sufficiently convincing manner that they can be cut together later, in the same way that film actors must pretend that the special effects exist during shooting?
  • Are there good (royalty-)free sound effect libraries available?
I think the possibilities are interesting, if people can be gathered together to actually do it. Imagine the subtle horror of Poe's The Cask Of Amontillado, or the adventure of Stevenson's Treasure Island, all staying as faithful to the book as possible, without Hollywood's story-twisting and sensationalism spoiling it all.

It would need to be a real community effort - I fancy that I could produce a passable script adaptation of a book and help with the audio production and sound effects, but I'm no actor, nor do I have equipment at home that even approaches what would be required. What about it?"
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Internet-Created Free Audio Dramas?

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  • Cartoons (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RazzleFrog (537054) on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @05:05PM (#5338302)
    Aren't cartoons done in a segmented fashion? You don't get all of the actors in one room. Each one records there segment and then everything is spliced later on. Actually, there is no reason that you couldn't do exactly like you suggest and find somebody who is willing to do some low end computer animation.
    • Re:Cartoons (Score:5, Interesting)

      by geomon (78680) on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @05:11PM (#5338363) Homepage Journal
      That's one of the difficulties noted in the article. The cartoon audio tracks are recorded on high-tech sound gear and are edited with equally high-quality audio edit gear.

      Not that getting 'good' quality productions would cost a mint, but there are still blending and overdub techniques that would take some practice in getting right. Consider some of the audio productions of Shakespeare produced on vinyl. The actors are clearly interjecting and interacting in such a way that reproducing that effect from two different locations would be tricky.

      It would certainly be fun to try.
      • Re:Cartoons (Score:3, Interesting)

        by matt4077 (581118)
        As someone currently action in a Macbeth-Production, I can reassure you, that it is absolutely impossible to do stuff like this without actually meeting. So much of the later experience for the audience just has to develop between the actors before. There are times where the actors actually almost start to fight each other, because they disagree how a single line of text should be interpreted. If you let everybody do his thing and then mix it together later you will have n different versions of a single play.
        • Re:Cartoons (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward
          The straight-to-syndication, Firefly-ripoff show "Starhunter" has a character who's supposed to be a hologram interface to an AI, played by some guy in England. The rest of the show was filmed in Canada, and the live on-set actors (and I use the term loosely, particularly in regard to the lead) never met that guy, or even spoke to him on the phone. They just each deliver their lines as directed.

          Now PLEASE believe me when I say I'm not holding this cheeseball space opera forth as an example of great art, but it works well enough to demonstrate that good direction is 50% of acting (and in this case, good editing is probably another 25%). Add people who can actually act to boot, and I believe it can be made to work. Add some virtual-spaces software and hardware, and it might even work well. Or at least in an interestingly different manner. Not going to keep me away from live theatre, but I might be bothered to download it for free. And if it's n different versions of the same play, I say fire the director.
        • If I recall, the voice of Hal in 2001 was done by a guy who had absolutely no nowledge of the movie production (or plot, I think). Of course, this was to give Hal that slightly unnerving detachment in the movie. But still...

          Didn't Sean Conery record the voice of Draco for that awful movie (Dragonheart, was it?) without having much other involvement in the movie?

        • Are you daft, man? You used the word! The M-Word! Don't you realize how devestatingly unlucky that is when you're in a play? You are now doomed. :-)
      • The cartoon audio tracks are recorded on high-tech sound gear and are edited with equally high-quality audio edit gear.

        Recording on high-tech gear is irrelevant when you consider the quality of the amplifiers
        and speakers that most people will be using to listen to the finished product.
    • Re:Cartoons (Score:2, Informative)

      by Microlith (54737)
      In the US they are done this way.

      In Japan, for instance, all the actors are in an open soundstage and read their lines with everyone else present, and in many cases it keeps the actors from sounding stilted.
    • Re:Cartoons (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Aren't cartoons done in a segmented fashion?

      Yes.

      A real-time, linear production puts a terrible strain on the animators' wrists.
  • by Bonker (243350) on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @05:06PM (#5338303)
    http://www.nabiki.com/radioplay/ [nabiki.com]

    Radio plays made by people who write anime fanfiction. Yes, this is the *pinnacle* of geekdom!
    • Could it be matched by a radio drama of a webcomic that sometimes parodies anime?

      Tsunami Channel [keenspace.com] Radio Drama (current location) [keenspace.com] (future location) [linuxpals.com]

      For those interested, I happen to play the lead male character of Experimental Comic Kotone (Onii-chan) in the scripts and I'm also planning on aiding design of part of the Radio Drama site when relocated. There is a sample script up on the current site for those interested.

    • Hey come on now, I resent that. I did that site. If anyone's interested in the details I'd be happy to tell... It was a lot of fun, and a lot of work and the result is barely tolerable when doing a mixed cast. And I'll tell you why, it's a lot of work doing a radioplay, and as many have noted the average aspiring voice talent doesn't have the resources to record their voice... What you get is the link posted above. :)
      • Actually, it's barely tolerable come to think of it, but it was fun. You can find a not so bad version up at:
        mp3.com [mp3s.com] but I haven't updated that in a long time either.
      • <animegeek value=ON>
        You have some of my favorites, Maxwell.

        HOI, and Taming of the Horse in Particular.

        All Ranma fans should read ToH. Vince rocks.
        </animegeek>

        There, see. I may have accused you at being at the pinnacle of geekdom, but I'm right there with you.

  • Make more! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @05:07PM (#5338316)
    Because I really want to see poorly coreographed lightsaber duels with AfterEffects glow slapped on top.

    Set to a bastard child combo of John Williams and Fatboy Slim and you've got a hit! You're an internet movie star, baby!
    • that that pretty much describes most amateur produced *audio* drama.

      Pitiful, idn'it?

      KFG
    • by Randolpho (628485)
      Because I really want to see poorly coreographed lightsaber duels with AfterEffects glow slapped on top.
      Rent Star Wars. ;)
    • by Peterus7 (607982) on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @11:30PM (#5340883) Homepage Journal
      Is in fanfilms. Exiter wasn't bad, and the graphics were in some ways better than TOS graphics, lol. Anyhow, I think Star trek fanboys could create some pretty good fan-episodes and stuff.

      Down with hollywood! Up with kids who build star trek sets in their parents basements!

      Although if the Exiter people keep on churning out good stuff, they could *accidently* produce a major hit, like the blair witch project...

  • Introducing young folks to the classics is as old as, well, Classic Comics [eagleforum.org].
  • by Entropy_ah (19070) on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @05:08PM (#5338332) Homepage Journal
    Just remember that internet radio can to terribly, terribly wrong [thesync.com].
  • Hayward Sanitarium (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LxDengar (610889) on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @05:08PM (#5338333)
    A few years ago, I ran into an audio series on the Internet, although it was originally on NPR Playhouse. Apparently it was one of there most popular series of all time. Its a wonderful, campy radio drama. I wish these guys would do more. Highly worth checking out.

    Check on Google, but ther RA files can be found here:

    http://www.cincinnatisoftball.com/specials/hallo we en99/hayward_sanitarium/hayward.html
  • Nice niche (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Urban Garlic (447282)
    This might be just the sort of thing to fill a little niche in the consumer marketplace. I personally enjoy audio dramas, as well as a lot of spoken-word work, and it's hard to find in the commercial marketplace. Presumably this is because there is insufficient demand for it to catch the eye of big distributors. I, for one, would welcome this. Might even pay a buck or two for it.
  • by endoboy (560088) on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @05:09PM (#5338347)
    it could certainly be done as the poster describes, but most of the benefit of such productions (certainly for the participants, and often for the audience) is related to being in the same room.... immediacy of human contact, and all that

    take away the thrill of being on stage, and I'm not sure how much merit there is to producing "Spartacus meets Elvis" for display in a browser window

    • You could recreate some of the synergy (buzzzzzzzzz) of actors working together in real time if the performances were done simultaneously with an instant messenger using an audio stream or webcam. If done correctly, this could solve the problem of disjoint performances.

      But it would create a few logistical problems. The performers would need to record their own work at their own computers. That would mean each of them using Audacity or whatever and knowing enough to get good sounds out of it. They would each need good quality sound cards and microphones. And pretty fast internet connections. That's a lot to ask.

      Then there is the problem of mixing down. First the actors need to get their wav files to the sound engineer. Wav files are HUGE! You could cut down some of the size by using FLAC or something, but you're still talking about some pretty massive files. Another reason why the actors need fat pipes. Mixing down an entire book would be an enormous task. It takes hours to mix down a three minute song. Mixing an audio book is a bit simpler than a pop song, I imagine, but it would still take an incredibly long time to do.

      I think this would be really cool, and I'd like to participate if someone gets a project going, but there are a few things that need to be worked out. The fact that I can write this post using Galeon on Linux is a major testament to the power of peer production efforts.

      • well... in theory, sure--the various technical fixes you suggest could be made to work.

        But, of course, reality has to come into it. Friend of mine volunteers at the community theater up the street--her budget for the most recent show was $40
  • Books on tape? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tachyonflow (539926) on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @05:11PM (#5338365) Homepage
    Perhaps a less ambitious and more realistic starting point would be to produce "books on tape" of some of the Project Gutenberg works. One person could produce a work with minimal effort and no sound effects.
    • That's what I was thinking, too...but if the effort can put forth to add appropriate sound effects and make use of other actors, it would be much more entertaining. Doing it "books-on-tape" style is a good idea, but in my opinion, it should only be done if doing something a little more entertaining becomes impractical.
      • Dialog parts would be interesting -- now we're back to the ability to act again. But if one "good" reader (still talking about books-on-tape style) could do the reading and then submit it to whomever could add the special effects. Make it a muli-track operation much like you'd lay down tracks for a song at separate sittings.
    • I agree with this idea, and would be an excellent aid to those with vision problems, much like the "talking books" you can rent at the library. With this you could do the same thing, but not have to take a trek out to listen to it.
      • Way ahead of you (Score:5, Informative)

        by Straker Skunk (16970) on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @05:39PM (#5338614)
        There's a charity [rfbd.org] that specializes in doing exactly that, through the efforts of volunteers.

        (I've been thinking of giving it a go someday....)
        • Re:Way ahead of you (Score:3, Informative)

          by cowtamer (311087)
          too bad they don't seem to have it online in mp3 format... (unless I didn't look carefully enough)
          • Oops (Score:3, Informative)

            by Straker Skunk (16970)
            My bad. Guess I missed the bit about Project Gutenberg texts...

            RFBD does mostly new books, and educational ones at that. Copyright issues prevent the recordings from being freely distributed.

            Anyway, these folks are interesting not so much because of their finished products, but because they recruit volunteers to record and produce them, and have all the actual equipment necessary to do that. It's a nifty way for hopeful voice actors / dramatic readers to get some footwork, and perform charity at the same time. (Yes, educational books only, but there's a whole art to not sounding like Ben Stein on Valium :-)

            P.S.: Someone please mod my previous comment (-1, Overrated)....
        • I would have called it RTFB.

          *sorry*
  • Similar Issue (Score:5, Informative)

    by ackthpt (218170) on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @05:12PM (#5338367) Homepage Journal
    On the StoneTrek site, there's a piece concerning the distribution of these extraordinarily well done hybrid (Flintstones-Star Trek) cartoons. Music was one particular sticking point, as portions of both themes play in the episodes. Assuming a less restrictive copyright code (both shows are over 30 years old, right?) and a better spirit of cooperation between enterprises (not including the ship, no pun intended, either) it's a heck of a smooth effort and very entertaining, but will not see the light of day on TV or commercial distribution.

    Oh, you can find StoneTrek here [campchaos.com], to save some bandwidth on the home site [stonetrek.com].

    • Re:Similar Issue (Score:3, Interesting)

      by NaugaHunter (639364)
      The "good" news here is that copyright holders end up over-complicating things and hurting each other. On the commentary for The Emperor's New Groove* they mentioned that John Goodman had to sign something so they could use the scat that he made up in the one scene. Similarly, the reason Beavis and Butthead releases are without videos is that while MTV had broadcast rights, they don't have distribution rights to the videos, even though the majority are snippets. Whether they are unwilling to try for them, or they failed, I don't know. The irony here being B&B is where I usually learned about new music I ended up liking. Whoever chose the videos tended to be way more eclectic than the standard playlists of the day.

      * - Yes, discussing a Disney movie in a copyright context will probably provoke numerous cries of "Foul!" However, I think that while the movie industry has a number of faults, other than the encryption issues many DVD's are good deals. Not much more than CDs, but hours more use. Especially considering many CDs have less then 15 minutes worth of good stuff on them. If we could just convince the MPAA that they should have a campaign to go after street corner vendors and leave home users alone. After all, those are where they actually lose sales.
  • Still need talent... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I watched Exeter, and it was a good effort. In fact, I think its safe to say that it was a pretty darn good effort, and that from a prop and production sense, it was very similar to the original Star Trek.

    But, SOMETHING was missing, and I don't know what it is. Maybe it was the director, perhaps it was the acting. I mean, could Bill, Leanord and DeForrest have made it better, with everything else the same?

    Voice actors have the same issue. It's very difficult to be convincing over audio when all you have is some pages and are locked into a silent recording booth.

    My favorite audio play is "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas". The production on this CD is absolutely amazing, from the actors, the sounds, the music, everything. Simply incredible. (it's funny as hell too)

    So, while we may have the technical means to produce "cheap audio", there's still a human factor involved that is difficult to quantify.
    • Voice actors have the same issue. It's very difficult to be convincing over audio when all you have is some pages and are locked into a silent recording booth.

      Plus, though I think there would be a *plethora* (SAT word of the day) of volunteers, many would be geeks/nerds, who tend to have the least inflection in their voices of anybody...

      Auditioning people to do the voices might be worse than what the judges of American Idol have to sit through. You saw how suprised the tonedeaf people were when they were told they couldn't sing...
      imagine the DDoS attack from a vengeful nerd who you told couldn't speak well.
    • Possibly the thing that was missing here was familiarity with establised characters.

      If you were to watch an original series episode for the first time, especially now, you'd probably firstly notice how 'ham' the acting is.

      Having compared an original episode with 'Exeter', I'd tend to conclude that it doesn't feel quite the same because I'm not familiar with the new characters. The acting however is just as ham.

      But what if there were a few more Exeter episodes? Would that make all the difference?
  • Dr. Who audio dramas (Score:5, Informative)

    by Masem (1171) on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @05:13PM (#5338379)
    There's been a few specially written audio dramas written for Doctor Who and featured on BBC's Cult site (can't recall URL presently), which IIRC have used some of the original actors when possible as well as some reasonably famous celebrities for additional voices.
    • by mbourgon (186257) on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @05:41PM (#5338633) Homepage
      You're probably thinking of Big Finish Productions (http://www.doctorwho.co.uk/), who have done a ton of Audio Dramas, most newly written for them, typically by the original writers and starring the original cast members. Well worth the effort to get, especially if you spend any time in a car.

      Alternatively - look around, there's already a ton of audio dramas, most done decades ago. It's called OTR - Old Time Radio. Suspense did "The Dunwich Horror", Lux Radio Theater did a ton of movies (most with the original cast - it was a way to advertise the movie), X-1 did stories by Sturgeon, Heinlein, etc. And frequently the collectors own the original tape, and have cleaned it up before posting mp3s.

      Alt.binaries.sounds.radio.oldtime is a good term to google on (most people who do it are OTR geeks), or a good newsgroup to look at.
      • Yea, again without checking, "Big Finish Productions" sounds like what's available as a streaming Real feed from BBC, but that you can also buy the CDs with other ones around. I remember that the 'premier' one on the site had both McCoy and (Ace's actress name, can't remember) in it, as well as John Sessions, who, IIRC, is a well known british Shakespearean actor who also got the Whose Line is it Anyway? show off the ground in the UK (Compared to the Drew Carey versions, the original series was very upper brow). It's been a while since I checked, but I would definitely get my hands on those dramas given the quality of the one done on the Real feed.
      • Heinlein stories as teleplays? Where do I drop off my severed body parts in exchange for this?

        Sorry, but I can't quite make out where to get these, and I really want 'em. Can you clarify a bit?

        Thanks.

        --grendel drago
  • by MosesJones (55544) on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @05:14PM (#5338389) Homepage

    I'm really sorry to break it to all the geeks here BUT you do actually need to act to do Radio plays. It can be much harder to convey feeling when all you have is a voice.

    People who can act have a skill, just like coders. And lets face it...

    No one has ever said that communication is the strongest skill that a geek ever had.
    • No one has ever said that communication is the strongest skill that a geek ever had.


      But then I submit that acting is about emoting, not communication - and i have emotions to spare...
    • I was a thespian! Damnit...

      (*goes back to monosylabic mumbling*)
    • No one has ever said that communication is the strongest skill that a geek ever had.

      Actually, (for coding geeks, anyway), communication probably is their strongest skill.

      Remember those lawsuits about code being speech? Coders communicate what they want to the computer (or to other coders).

      Programming is communication. It's just not verbal communication.
    • Yes and no.

      I've gotten both extremely good and extremely bad results out of untrained actors.

      Yes, DeNiro using method acting in Taxi Driver is a seemingly unstoppable force.

      However, we each wander through our lives attempting to solve the same basic problems. If you ask a manic-depressive guy to play a gregarious politician, you're going to have problems. However, if you ask him to play himself, you can get interesting results.

      The main trick to directing is picking the right people to do the right things and then not getting in the way.

      So, go ahead. Try it. Out of all the people pursuing these things, eventually something will congeal into an interesting piece of art.

      And that, ultimately, is what it is all about. Attempting to understand the thing that is humanity.

      -Brett
    • by PCM2 (4486) on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @06:17PM (#5339020) Homepage
      People who can act have a skill, just like coders. And lets face it...

      No one has ever said that communication is the strongest skill that a geek ever had.

      Wrong side of the bed this morning?

      I didn't read anybody talking about destroying Hollywood and ushering in a new era of Internet-produced audio drama as our only form of entertainment. All I read was somebody offering up an idea. Sounds like fun to me. Don't be a dick.

    • I don't see the relevance of your comment. I interpreted this story not to be about software geeks doing drama, but about drama people having a free drama community, in the same way software geeks have a free software community.

      But I am skeptical, because as far as I can see the free software community is unique. Listen to all the Macintosh graphic-artist types who complain that Linux falls short in appearance. Does it occur to them to jump in a fix it? Rarely if ever. And musicians go so far as to discourage other musicians from performing for free, feeling this would kill the market for professionals.

    • Sure, acting is a skill, but that doesn't mean everyone with that skill makes a career out of it. There's lots of people out there that could do a servicable job at a project like this who aren't professional actors, and have a lot of fun doing it. I know I had fun doing a couple of student plays, and while I don't kid myself I'm the next De Niro, everyone laughed in the right places.
    • No emoticon exists to express the rage I feel now! ;)
  • by risingphoenix (638581) on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @05:17PM (#5338422) Journal
    More and more universities are offering their students high quality audio equipment for free use. One place I know of is Johns Hopkins, where a number of people I know have produced professional sounding recordings simply by taking a quick class in how to use the equipment offered by the university.

    Possibly other places, like libraries might do the same for out of school people. The equipment's there, there just needs to be the time and the money.

    I don't know about the legal issues with use, though, such as students using the equipment to bootleg concerts, etc. Other issues might include people renting the equipment to make "home videos".
    • I go to school at Baylor [baylor.edu], and they have a similar thing here. You have to take a one-hour credit class and you can then use the material in the music building. I dabble in electronica, and I've been able to mix some of my friends (who are amazing sopranos and altos) in to give trip-hop an almost aureal sound.

      It's a lot of fun and I encourage others on campuses to make friends with music majors, they're the nerds of music.

  • There was just a mention of a Star Wars fan-created drama [slashdot.org] right here!

    There's plenty of free professional-grade stuff at Seeing Ear Theatre [scifi.com].

    Scifi.com occasionally even throws in some classic radio stuff, but the best source for "X Minus One" (Bradbury, Dick, Zelazny, etc.) is Old-Time Radio mp3 trees [yahoo.com] where you trade CD-R's through the mail.

  • by Titusdot Groan (468949) on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @05:17PM (#5338431) Journal
    I find dramatizations can't hold a candle to the original work.

    The example you gave, BBC's dramatization of Lord of the Rings is very poor compared to the performance of Rob Inglis in his unabridged "reading" of those books.

    This is even more apparent with the American dramatizations of LotR's or for the BBC dramatization of The Hobbit vs. Inglis' performance.

    The most difficulty is in the abridgement -- especially for an amateur cast -- the author doing the shortening had better be good.

    However, a dramatic reading could be done by a single person with modern technology and you wouldn't have the problems of remote communications you mentioned.

    • The most difficulty is in the abridgement -- especially for an amateur cast -- the author doing the shortening had better be good.

      That's a good insight into the problem right there. Also most litereary works are full of narrative not dialogue. Somehow the information that is not spoken by the characters needs to be conveyed in the audio.

      A major part of the effort would be creating good quality scripts that all the actors liked before recording was started.

      Someone else mentioned there would be a lack of interaction with the voices recorded separately, but you could imaging some kind of realtime conference call type thing going on if people had broadband.

      I have to say this sounds like a brilliant idea. Especially about the old Science Fiction stories someone else pointed out as being ripe for redoing.

    • BBC's dramatization of Lord of the Rings is very poor compared to the performance of Rob Inglis in his unabridged "reading" of those books.

      I haven't heard the latter, but are we talking about the same BBC dramatisation? The 13-hour one with Ian Holm, Michael Hordern, Robert Stephens, John le Mesurier, Billy Nighy &c? The one that the cast and crew of the films used for reference when they didn't have the books?

      • Yeah, look up the cassettes (sold by Recorded Books Inc.). I personally think the BBC dramatization was brilliant, but Robert Inglis's reading is many times better still. That has something to do with the nature of the book. LotR is a narrative-driven story which overwhelms you with detail to the point where it becomes psychologically difficult to think of it as fiction. That detail necessarily gets cut out when you try to compress it into 12 or 13 hours, like the BBC or Peter Jackson did. It forces it to be a plot-driven story. I know there are some books that are 3/4 padding, but not Tolkien's.

        BTW. I noticed that the unabridged recording is floating around on Direct Connect if you want to sample it before you buy the tapes. It really is that cool.

    • Yeah, I think you're right about Robert Inglis's performance. It really was awesome. But it's not because the BBC production was somehow shoddy. In fact, I think it is in many ways more enjoyable and definitely better thought out than the movies, which themselves are not catastrophic.

      I can tell you that if I had read the books into a microphone, it wouldn't have been anywhere near as enjoyable to listen to. Robert Inglis is just an amazing voice actor. Having listened to the whole 51-hour recording several times, I can honestly say it's some of the best entertainment there is. But that's not because unabridged readings are in themselves entertaining. It's because it was a great book by a great author, read by a talented actor who knew how to set the right mood. I imagine that combination comes together quite rarely.

  • Great idea. (Score:1, Troll)

    by grub (11606)

    Internet radio dramas are a great idea. How else will the visually impaired get to enjoy goatse.cx [goatse.cx]?
  • by harlows_monkeys (106428) on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @05:19PM (#5338449) Homepage
    Before television was popular, there were many radio dramas. I'm way too young to have heard them originally, but I've heard rebroadcasts of some, and what stands out is how good science fiction can be on audio.

    Consider something like the the bar with the aliens in "Star Wars". In an audio drama, all you have to do is have a few words by the narrator (something about a typical seedy spaceport dive, with a band of aliens playing exotic instruments), and then some simple sound effects, and the listener gets an image of the place.

    Not "the" image...but "an" image...which is better, because everyone gets the image of the perfect seedy spaceport dive for them.

    In a movie, all we get is the director's image...and unless they spend a lot on costumes and effects, it's a cheesy image at that.

    When you don't have to spend most of your budget on effects, you can spend more on story. Many classic SF stories that we'll probably never seen done well on the screen were done in the 50's on radio.

    Finally, audio works great in the car.



    • Growing up in jamaica TV wasn't a commodity as it is today in the US. I remember spending weekend at our grand parents who didn't have electricity and all they had was an old radio. On sunday nights we would all listen to an english drama called the 'clithero kid' a sort of dennis the menice type deal. Not ony that they had day time radio drama's much like soap operas. That I must admit were very interesting. When I see shallow kids show's such as mighty morphing power rangers and well pick any big boob cop, warrior princess show they lack the depth of story that radio dramas have. All you need is a expressive actor and an old organ in teh back ground.
    • KNX 1070 (1070 AM) broadcasts recordings of old radio programs every night at 9pm, and at 2am (a rebroadcast of the 9pm program of the previous night.) Programs like The Shadow, X-1, Box-13, The Jack Benny Show, and the Lone Ranger (among many others - there are two half-hour shows per night on most nights.) I'm personally waiting for them to get around to re-broadcasting Arch Obler's Lights Out series (they change the mix every year or so.) They also post lo-fi recordings of some of the shows on their website.
  • I make software that turns collections of MP3 files into streaming web sites. I've got lots of bands, but I've recently been looking for "spoken word" type content - dramas would be SO cool! If at all interested, check out Andromeda [turnstyle.com] and get in touch! -Scott
  • by kfg (145172) on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @05:23PM (#5338492)
    I think it falls into the catagory of "why bother?"

    If you've got a net everything starts to look like a net problem I guess. I've never known any physical local that suffered a shortage of dramatic wannabes. I know towns with populations in the hundreds that have *more* than one community theater.

    While the net would be an ideal medium for *distributing* such works just putting a notice on a college bulliten board should turn up more actors than you need to stage the complete works of Shakepeare without repeating anybody.

    Of course the college is likely to bust you for distributing those "illegal" mp3 files, but that's a different issue.

    KFG
  • I think this is a great idea and with the right software support, it could create a new form of mass artistic collaboration. I would love to participate. FYI, XM Radio has two channels devoted to radio drama. XM163 has Sonic Theater, which does modern serialized radio plays and dramatic readings of classic fiction, e.g., things you might find in Guttenberg. Some of it's really quite good. XM164 is classic Old Time Radio, most of which I happen to love. These two channels are a large part of the reason I got XM.
  • by nomadic (141991)
    The problem is you generally need actors with some training to provide the voices. Don't assume that it's "just talking".

    The best example of not heeding this warning can be seen in those computer games (thankfully most places do everything professionally now) where it's obvious that the programmer's friends did the voices. It sounds horrible.
  • by serutan (259622) <snoopdoug@geekazon . c om> on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @05:34PM (#5338588) Homepage
    Back in the eighties I had a lot of friends who produced public cable access TV shows. You can borrow the cameras and use the studios and editing facilities. Depends on the city, but in Portland Oregon all you had to pay for was tape. Most of the shows were on the level of two people sitting in the studio with a fake potted plant between them. But there were some scripted stories shot on location with local actors, or at least acting students. Very amateurish but occasionally interesting and sometimes actually good.

    My point is that people who want to do these things are already doing them. There's nothing holding back anybody from producing audio drama and throwing it on Live365 etc.

  • by rdewalt (13105) on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @05:42PM (#5338648) Homepage
    So far the hardest part has been to get the Voice Actors to record with the same settings, as close to the same way as possible.

    Nothing like a VA who doesn't understand the format request, giving 4khz/8bit when you ask for 44khz, 16 bit.
    Or the VA who speaks three angstroms from the microphone.
    Or the VA who practically whispers so quitely the 'cut off' clips most of her audio, and what you -do- get is "household" noise.

    I'm still going to keep attempting this. I just find that the hardest part is Voice Actor wrangling.
  • These kinds of things are out there already. Try this streaming audio for old time radio shows:

    http://www.live365.com/stations/knronline [live365.com]

    Or:

    http://www.live365.com/stations/otrnow [live365.com]

    I agree it would also be nice to see new creative scripts and performances as another alternative to these oldies.
  • good audio sci-fi (Score:3, Informative)

    by Triv (181010) on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @05:45PM (#5338671) Journal
    It's not free (and it isn't really what you're talking about) but ZBS Media [zbs.org] has been putting out sci-fi/fantasy audio dramas for close to two decades. Their most notable series are the Ruby Series (a film-noir detective set on another planet - I recommend the first one [lizardlounge.com]. Oh yeah, and she slows time. :) and Jack Flanders (an inter-dimentional traveller, for lack of a better description. More fantasyish. Check this one [lizardlounge.com].) Both are awsome. They're also completely not-for-profit, so if you like their stuff you can donate at their website.

    Enjoy.

    Triv

  • Rather than complicated, multi-part dramas (though those would be nice, too), what I would like to find is a collection of audiobooks in the same style as Project Gutenberg. That is, a competent reader, clearly recorded, reading works with unambiguous copyright clearance.

    I've recorded myself reading a few snippets from books on Project Gutenberg, and will spare anyone else from every listening to the results, so I can rule myself out as "a competent reader" for such a project, but there are a lot of folks with better voices.

    (Ditto language learning materials! I'd like to be able to practice German, or learn some Spanish, by popping a CD of compressed files into a car player as I drive place to place. Eventually, those compressed files would be Ogg, but for now, I'd settle for MP3 ;))

    timothy
  • all staying as faithful to the book as possible, without Hollywood's story-twisting and sensationalism spoiling it all.

    Wait a minute, as faithful as "possible"? By stating that you're saying that you ARE willing to make changes that you deem approriate for whatever reason you are deeming it appropriate. Is this not what Hollywood does? If are willing to change the source material at all, then you shouldn't go around blasting others for changing the source material regardless of how "morally superiour" you consider your changes.
  • Be sure to check out the Star Wars: Second Strike [starwarz.com] site. They put together a radio drama using a cast from all over the world. MP3s are available for download.
  • Up until the 1980s (but primarily in the 1950s), major radio stations produced audio dramas. Sometimes adaptations of books (including both of your examples, Treasure Island [radiomemory.com] and Amontillado [brandoclassics.com], and others of the ilk), sometimes pulp-magazine short stories, and sometimes originals.

    A simple websearch for "OTR" or "Old Time Radio" will find many sources for digitized recordings- on CDROM, MP3, or streaming audio [otrnow.com].

    The providers / traders of these files seem to act as if the stuff is public domain. I guess they haven't heard of the Sonny Bono act. It's hard to blame them for ignoring the law- it seems quite silly to think that something broadcast in 1935 is still copyrighted.

    In any event, the widespread availablity of last century's radio plays reduces the incentive for any modern group to work on reading Gutenberg texts aloud. No net.geek will do a better job than Orson Welles [angelfire.com].
  • I recently produced a radio drama exclusively for the Internet for downloading and also airing on my station RantRadio [rantradio.com]. There were 9 x 1 hour episodes coming from the creative mind of Sean Kennedy.

    Called 'Tales from the Afternow' [theafternow.com], it's pretty damn creative and if you take into account that NONE of it is pre-written and all spoken on the fly your mind will be blown away. With background sound effects etc.. etc.. it's a good listen.
  • For decades the radio was "the" medium for performance art. Spoken word was king and it ruled the airwaves.

    Imagine hearing Orson Welles doing the Third Man every week or The Goon Shows when they were brand spanking new. There were some hits (Johhny Dollar, Mercury Theater, The Goon Show, The Great Gildersleve, XMinusOne, Dimmension X, etc) and some real duds (the plethora of soaps, the cheesy hard boiled detectives, the paper thin comedys)

    Its hard to imagine but at one time folks would rush home at night to be able hear these shows, for those who are nowcentric that would be like preTivo TV watching.

    Over the last few years there have been several groups activley preserving these gems in digital formats. Its amazing how much has been passed on and can be gotten.

    If you want to listen to some these gems there are a mass of sites that have the shows. Some good starting places are

    http://www.wayback.net/
    http://users2.ev1.net/~ ey/audio.html

    For the Goon Shows try
    http://www.alphalink.com.au/~robertd/GoonShow mp3.h tml

    For all the Jean Shepherd broadcasts you can devours head on over to
    http://shep-archives.com/

  • A group in Prescott, Arizona started Coyote Radio [coyoteradio.org], a local radio comedy group. They produce, write, act, and foley a live show once a month with a simulcast on KJZA 89.5 FM [kjza.com]. The producer/co-writer/director, Andrew Johnson-Schmit, told me that the live feedback from the audience adds a lot to the performance. Their stuff is edgy/political/toplical and damn funny. Check them out of you are between Prescott and the Utah border.

    I know they have given permission to universities to produce Coyote Radio scripts as class projects. Give them an e-mail if you are interested in seeing some scripts.

    Some day they hope to have a streaming server for their material, but it is very expensive for a volunteer organization to mount.

  • projects exist (Score:3, Informative)

    by tunesmith (136392) <siffertNO@SPAMmuseworld.com> on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @06:36PM (#5339199) Homepage Journal
    I created one called StorySprawl a while ago - it's for people to actually write cyoa adventures together, and we started doing an audio rendition of one of them, chapter by chapter, "Dreams Of Esterton". Low budget but fun. The "old" version of storysprawl is at www.storysprawl.com [storysprawl.com] and the new version is in development... people can always write me if they want to have access to one of the sample audio chapters.

    Curt
  • FINALLY! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Hubert_Shrump (256081) <cobranet@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @06:51PM (#5339310) Journal
    ...produce an audio drama based on free texts such as those from Project Gutenberg...

    Gripping audio versions of The Inferno and Tom Jones! I cannot wait to fall asleep at the wheel while Virgil (in a nasally German voice) goes on for eight hours. Whee!

    • Perhaps not surprisingly, there's actually some good stuff in the public domain. I recommend Three Men In A Boat [litrix.com], by Jerome K. Jerome. Heck, I can't even pick a section to quote, as it's all so good. Just start reading it.
  • by Artful Codger (245847) on Wednesday February 19, 2003 @07:06PM (#5339407)
    I've had a good look inside some world-leading drama studios (eg CBC Canada). The following points were raised in the preamble:

    "While the technology exists to cut a play together, I see several possible problems:
    • High-quality audio recording equipment is expensive, and homes are not ideal environments. Can source material of sufficiently good quality be generated without professional facilities?
      Since the actors could be widely separated, can they act in isolation in a sufficiently convincing manner that they can be cut together later, in the same way that film actors must pretend that the special effects exist during shooting?
    • Are there good (royalty-)free sound effect libraries available?


    To the first point... high quality computer audio is dirt-cheap these days. A SB Live Value has better record/play fidelity than the majority of pro broadcast gear used in the 60' to 80's. 24-bit cards can be had for under $300. Decent mics are an order of magnitude less expensive than 10 years ago - eg a Chinese large diaphragm condenser for $99 (Nady, Marshall, APEX etc). Very effective multitrack software can be had for well under $100 (example www.ntrack.com). So the gear is THERE!

    As far as a recording space...funnily enough, many radio drama studios pride themselves on how realistic a 'room' sound they can create. Amazing how much a living room can be made to sound like ... a livingroom!. Ditto for other desired spaces. A quiet basement room in a quiet neighbourhood, late at night... is decently quiet. So ultra-dead $$$ rooms are NOT necessary!

    The best sound effects for radio drama are custom-created and recorded, libraries might get used for hard-to-get stuff, or for less critical backgrounds. Again, a guy with a MD recorder (or a rented DAT) and a mic can gather just about any required effect.

    The sellers of pro libraries have fallen on hard times. Pro Hollywood-grade libraries are selling at 50% or more off usual price. A good general 10-CD library can be had for under $300 on sale. Check out the Blue Plate Special at www.sound-ideas.com. And there's alot on $ 10 "multimedia" library CDs. And finally, tons of free stuff on the 'Net.

    Regarding actor collaboration, yes you will still get the best results with the actors playing off each other in the same studio.

    So, it would be easy and rewarding to do this over the Internet. Let's go!
  • Continuing the adventures of Tex Murphy from the old Access games: http://www.unofficialtexmurphy.com/ [unofficialtexmurphy.com]

    Nicely done... (well, it's the same actor, can't go too wrong).
  • Just act out a JonKatz /. post. Wouldn't be much worse than an afternoon soap.
  • Online Voice Acting (Score:3, Informative)

    by TheGatekeeper (309483) on Thursday February 20, 2003 @12:55AM (#5341217)
    My younger sister is an AVA, or Amateur Voice Actress online. There's quite a community of voice actors, who frequently produce original radio plays, and those based on books, movies, anime or TV.
    Fanfiction is perhaps the most popular form of online voice acting, as the producers and actors are able to take more liberties. Fandubs (generally the fan-dubbing of anime) are quite popular, as are rewriting books into script-format and recording them.
    These generally turn out fairly well, sometimes better than professional dubs, and the actors record their lines in their own homes, without ever having met the rest of the cast.

    The most popular site for AVA's is FLAVA [laflava.com] (Fun Lovin' Aspiring Voice Actors).

    The VAA [cjb.net] (Voice Acting Alliance) is a very good place to learn more about how these productions are made.

    One of the most popular original online radio plays, which is beautifully mixed, is Legacy of a Hero [legacyofahero.tk], and definitely sets the standard for amateur producing and acting. LoaH is highly recommended listening.

    My sister's AVA resume [pure-sugar.net] will give an example of the range of productions.

    In short, online voice acting, in people's homes, mixed with lines of other cast members whom they've never met, can work out incredibly well, and have been doing so for several years.
  • I think that one of the obstacles to performing a good audio drama over the web is latency. Any sort of artificial sounding delay could throw off the actors and make it hard to establish a convincing rapport. One solution I can think of would be to have a program that simultaneously records the actor in hi fidelity while streaming a low-fidelity but low-latency signal to the other party. This way, the synchronization can be kept, more or less. The less latency, the easier it will be for actors to ignore. Once the dialog has been recorded in this way, any wave editor could then be used to merge the two high fidelity recordings

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